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SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Kyushu Basho, and komusubi Takakeisho remains alone atop the leaderboard with an 8–1 record. The number of rikishi one loss him has been reduced down to four—ozeki Takayasu, M9 Daieisho, M12 Aoiyama, and M13 Onosho.

Takakeisho pulled out all the stops yesterday in his match against ozeki Tochinoshin, who he blasted off the dohyo in just a couple of seconds. This certainly shows the komusubi’s focus and determination, but it also re-opens the question of what’s wrong with Tochinoshin. Something’s been off all tournament, which his 4–5 record certainly attests to, but no one’s quite sure what. My suspicion is that he’s having problems with his right knee (the one that’s always in a brace and covered by a half-leg bandage). Given how he’s moving, I don’t think it’s anything serious, more like a weakness or a strain—something that makes it difficult for him to do his usual aggressive, powerful sumo, and also introduces an exploitable hole in his defense. It’s clear that he’s not going in the competition for the yusho [tournament championship] this time around, but I hope that he’s able to secure a kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. After all the struggles he went through to get promoted to ozeki, I’d hate for him to be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] again so soon into his run at sumo’s second highest rank. 

Ozeki Takayasu has bounced back nicely from his end of Week 1 slump, and looked strong and in control in his win over M4 Yoshikaze. Right now, the big match that everyone is looking forward to is when Takayasu goes head to head with Takakeisho, which should happen in the next couple of days. That will define the shape of the final sprint in the yusho race.

Since we’re talking about ozeki, let me take a moment to say how disappointed I was with Goeido for the way he performed in yesterday’s match against M5 Chiyotairyu. Both rikishi came into the bout with 5–3 records, and it promised to be an exciting contest. But rather than taking his opponent on directly, Goeido went for a soft tachi-ai [initial charge] followed by a quick hop to the side, avoiding the fight entirely and leaving Chiyotairyu unbalanced and unsupported. It wasn’t a henka, but only by the thinnest of margins. And there’s nothing at all illegal about the maneuver, but it’s garnering a win by trickery rather than by good sumo. And for an ozeki who has been struggling all tournament, it’s a sign of weakness, not to mention a lack of confidence in his own ability to win the match on his own strength and skill.

Meanwhile, Onosho and Aoiyama continue to look very strong in their matches against their opponents further down the banzuke [ranking sheet]. As I said the other day, these rikishi deserve to be ranked much higher than M13 and M12 respectively, and that will make it easier for them to stay in the hunt for the yusho. 

Finally, a quick note about forty-year-old rikishi Aminishiki, who is in the Juryo Division for this tournament, ranked at J2 and currently 4–5. He won his match on Monday by kubinage [neck throw], a kimarite [winning maneuver] he’d never used before in his long career. In fact that’s the second “new” kimarite Aminishiki used this week, having won by Amiuchi [fisherman’s throw] on Day 6. This is particularly notable because it means that over the course of his career, Aminishiki has now successfully used 45 different kimarite, which is one shy of the all-time record held by Kyokushuzan (a Mongolian former-komusubi who fought in the late ’90s and early 2000s). Can Aminishiki find two more “new” ways to win at his age? Certainly, it’s another good reason to keep an eye on this wily veteran.

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Onosho (7–2) vs. M14 Chiyoshoma (5–4)—Onosho going for his kachi-koshi against another opponent ranked near the bottom of the banzuke. Should be an easy win for him. (0:35)
M13 Takanosho (3–6) vs. M9 Daieisho (7–2)—Daieisho, another of our second-place rikishi, also faces a low ranked opponent today. (2:40)
M12 Aoiyama (7–2) vs. M8 Takarafuji (4–5)—Aoiyama has to fight up the banzuke today, but Takarafuji hasn’t been particularly sharp so far this basho. Also, Aoiyama leads their personal rivalry 16–3. (4:00)
M11 Chiyonokuni (2–7) vs. M7 Shohozan (6–3)—This turns out to be a real knock down, drag out, street sumo bout. One of the most exciting of the tournament so far. (5:10)
Komusubi Takakeisho (8–1) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (5–4)—Our leader, Takakeisho, facing the bullish and dangerous Hokutofuji. (9:50)
M5 Chiyotairyu (5–4) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–2)—Takayasu better look sharp today. Chiyotairyu is coming off being embarrassed by Goeido yesterday, and will be looking to take some revenge on a different ozeki. (12:55)

DINOvember: Troodon

Looking very skittish because he’s afraid he’ll be mistaken for a prehistoric turkey!

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 9)

Week 2 of the Kyushu basho kicks off with komusubi Takakeisho having reclaimed sole possession of the top of the leaderboard. He’s 7–1 and immediately followed by a half-dozen rikishi at 6–2—ozeki Takayasu, M2 Tochiozan, M7 Abi, M9 Daieisho, M12 Aoiyama, and M13 Onosho.

Takakeisho continued to look strong and calm as he beat M1 Myogiryu yesterday. Today, though, he has to face ozeki Tochinoshin, who finally looked like his old self yesterday. For the first time this basho, Tochinoshin had a solid tachi-ai [initial charge] and got himself into his favorite position (left hand upper grip on the mawashi). When he does this, he’s extremely hard to beat. The big question today is whether he can do that again, or if Takakeisho’s wild tsuppari (pushes and thrusts) will hold him at bay. I look for Takakeisho to try that big roundhouse left that took his opponents by such surprise in the first few days of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Takayasu seemed not to be terribly bothered by the back spasm he suffered during his loss on Saturday. He came back strong yesterday and dispatched M4 Shodai without any trouble. Likewise, sekiwake Mitakeumi seems to have regained his rhythm as he easily handled his fellow sekiwake Ichinojo. With a 5–3 record, a promotion to ozeki is still technically within Mitakeumi’s grasp, but he needs to have a near-perfect Week 2 in order to secure it. Since there aren’t any yokozuna to face, I think the Kyokai are going to demand that he get 12 wins in order to be promoted. That means he’ll have to beat ALL of the ozeki and not have any more “off days” against lower-ranked opponents.

Speaking of Ichinojo, he seems to have forgotten all the lessons that have allowed him to remain at sumo’s third highest rank for most of this year. So far this basho, he’s been fighting like the lumbering, guileless behemoth that yo-yoed up and down the banzuke [ranking sheet] for so long. He comes into today’s matches with a 2–6 record and has to have a spectacular Week 2 if he wants to avoid demotion.

Ozeki Goeido got a pretty easy win yesterday over M4 Yoshikaze, putting him at 5–3 for the tournament. He still hasn’t looked at his best, even as he’s won his last three matches in a row, but at least he’s pulled out of the rut he was in during the middle of Week 1. 

We’ve got seven days of sumo left, and the yusho race is in full swing. It should be competitive all the way to the end of the basho, and the only thing I’m feeling confident about is the likelihood that we’ll end up having a playoff to decide the eventual winner.

Today’s top matches include:

FLASHBACK: Mainoumi vs. Terao—Today’s color commentators on NHK were two of my favorite rikishi when I was living in Japan. It’s fun to see a classic match from back then. (2:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–3) vs. M3 Ryuden (2–6)—Mitakeumi is trying to salvage his chances for an ozeki promotion. Ryuden is trying to salvage his whole tournament, this being his highest ranking ever. (9:15)
Komusubi Takakeisho (7–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (4–4)—Clearly the match of the day. The current leader facing one of his two remaining matches against a higher ranked opponent. Tochinoshin looked good yesterday, but has he really gotten his rhythm back? (12:10)

DINOvember: Dylandactyl

Why is this pterodactyl wearing a sombrero and poncho? Because my cousin Dylan likes it that way! This is the world’s first “Dylandactyl”!

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Kyushu Basho, and we’ve had a big change on the leaderboard. komusubi Takakeisho suffered his first loss yesterday, dropping him back into the mix with a half-dozen one-loss rikishi. However, four of the rikishi who began the day at 5–1 lost, so there are only three competitors tied for the lead—Takakeisho, M9 Daieisho, and M13 Onosho. 

That’s right, halfway through the tournament and our leaders are a first-time komusubi and a pair from the lower half of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Five rikishi are tied for second place at 5–2—ozeki Takayasu, M2 Tochiozan, M5 Chiyotairyu, M7 Abi, and M12 Aoiyama. 

As I said yesterday, Takakeisho is very soon going to be through with the toughest part of his schedule. He’s got two ozeki left to face—Goeido and Tochinoshin—neither of whom are having particularly good tournaments. After that, his Week 2 schedule will be filled with matches against lower-ranked opponents, meaning that it will theoretically be getting easier as the race for the yusho [tournament championship] reaches its climax. On paper, I’d say that Takakeisho is now the odds on favorite to win the basho. But sumo very rarely happens the way it “ought to” on paper (as Week 1 provides a clear case in point). 

Daieisho is a rikishi I’ve had no real cause to talk about in past tournaments. He’s been up and down the banzuke over the last few years, mostly in the Makuuchi Division, but having twice slipped back down to Juryo for a basho or two. His highest rank was M3, which he held twice (in the Haru Basho for both 2017 and 2018), but each time with pretty miserable results. M9 seems to be about the right ranking for him, which means that it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to hold on atop the leaderboard once they start scheduling him against more challenging opponents. 

Onosho, on the other hand, is a strong up-and-coming rikishi who dropped down to his current M13 ranking because of injuries. Now that those have healed, he’s dominating the other competitors ranked around him, and should be able to handle most of the mid-level rikishi, too. Truthfully, he’s in a very strong position, perhaps even stronger than Takakeisho because his immediate opponents are going to be ranked M8 and lower. It will only be in the final three or four days of the basho that he is pushed up to face tougher competition. 

Takayasu lost for the second time yesterday, but more significantly, in doing so he seemed to tweak his lower back (which could renew an injury that plagued him earlier this year). If his back is going to be a problem, then I don’t think there’s much chance that the ozeki will be a factor in the yusho race, and I think it creates a relatively high chance that he’ll go kyujo [absent due to injury] before the fortnight is through. 

Of the second-place rikishi, the one I think is in the strongest position is Aoiyama, for pretty much the same reasons I like Onosho’s chances. He’s ranked very far down the banzuke and seems to be in good physical and mental shape. After starting the basho slowly, he’s now won five matches in a row and seems to have gotten into a good rhythm. And his opponents for at least the next four or five days are going to come from the M7-and-lower pool.

Of course, so far the action this basho has been anything but predictable, so I don’t know that it really makes much sense to think too far down the course of Week 2. If things keep to form, the state of the yusho race will have changed completely by Tuesday. I guess we’ll all just have to keep watching, and that’s fine with me!

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Onosho (6–1) vs. M16 Meisei (4–3)—The first of our co-leaders, Onosho, hoping to stay in rhythm and stay in the mix. (1:25)
M12 Aoiyama (5–2) vs. M15 Daiamami (4–3)—Two big guys going full-tilt against each other. Quite a match! (2:20)
M11 Okinoumi (4–3) vs. M9 Daieisho (6–1)—Our second co-leader, Daieisho, facing off against Okinoumi, who as usual has been inconsistent this basho. Some days he looks like he belongs in sanyaku, other days he looks like he belongs in Juryo. (5:50)
Komusubi Takakeisho (6–1) vs. M1 Myogiryu (4–3)—Our final co-leader, Takakeisho, trying to bounce back from his first loss yesterday. (10:30).
M3 Ryuden (2–5) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (3–4)—Tochinoshin has seemed out of sorts all tournament. His tachi-ai [initial charge] hasn’t been sharp, and he hasn’t once gotten a good grip on an opponent’s belt. Ryuden is at his highest ranking ever, and predictably is struggling against the higher-level competition. (13:45)
M4 Shodai (4–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (5–2)—The big question is how Takayasu’s back is after his loss yesterday. Is he healthy enough to stay in the race for the yusho? (15:00)

DINOvember: Ankylosaurus

The friendliest dinosaur…

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 7)

We’ve reached the middle weekend of the Kyushu Basho and it’s a crazy, unimaginable, upside down world. All of the yokozuna are kyujo [absent due to injury]. There’s just one undefeated rikishi left, and it’s komusubi Takakeisho. He’s trailed by six rikishi at 5–1, but only one of those is in sanyaku—ozeki Takayasu (the others are M2 Tochiozan, M5 Chiyotairyu, M7 Abi, M9 Daieisho, and M13 Onosho). All the other upper-rankers have at least THREE losses.

I don’t know what’s up with Takakeisho, but for the third time this week he knocked his opponent down with a wild roundhouse left to the back/shoulder area. Is he holding a roll of ¥500 coins in his fist? He’s pulled that move on yokozuna Kisenosato, ozeki Goeido, and now komusubi Kaisei, all of whom you’d think would be able to handle such a literally ham-fisted attack. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things that Takakeisho does right, most notably his aggressiveness and his tenacity. But he hasn’t done anything to make it seem feasible that he’d be the lone undefeated rikishi heading into Day 7 of ANY basho. 

Having said that, one of the things that makes komusubi the toughest of all ranks is that their schedules are generally front-loaded with the toughest opponents. That means that Takakeisho’s Week 2 will be significantly easier than his Week 1. So if he can maintain his spot atop the leaderboard through this middle weekend, he’ll find himself pretty much in the driver’s seat of the yusho [tournament championship] race.

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Onosho (5–1) vs. M16 Arawashi (1–5)—Arawashi is clearly injured and has been hobbling around the dohyo all basho. As a result, Onosho shouldn’t have any trouble holding onto his position in the second-place pack. (1:25)
M7 Abi (5–1) vs. M9 Daieisho (5–1)
—Two of our second-place rikishi go head to head. Whatever happens, the leaderboard will be a little tighter tomorrow. (5:40)
M2 Tochiozan (5–1) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (3–3)—Tochiozan lost for the first time yesterday. Today he gets to prove whether he really belongs in the yusho race, or if Week 1 was just a fluke. (8:55)
M5 Chiyotairyu (5–1) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (1–5)—Chiyotairyu also gets a test today. So far he’s only faced mid-level opponents. Today he takes on a sekiwake. (9:55)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (3–3) vs. komusubi Takakeish0 (6–0)—If Mitakeumi wants to keep any hope of an ozeki promotion alive, he’s got to get on a big and impressive winning streak. It would be a terrific start if he could hand Takakeisho his first loss. (10:44)
M3 Ryuden (1–5) vs. ozeki Takayasu (5–1)—Takayasu got back in a winning way yesterday. Now we get to see if he can re-establish the dominant sumo he showed at the start of the basho. (14:10)

DINOvember: Top Shelf

Where they keep the “good stuff.”

SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6 of the Kyushu basho and already the top of the leaderboard is down to two rikishi. But what makes that truly incredible is that one is a komusubi (Takakeisho) and the other is an M2 (Tochiozan). Not only that, with the exception of ozeki Takayasu, all of the other sanyaku rikishi already have two or more losses.

Yesterday was a microcosm of the tournament so far for the upper-rankers. ALL of the sanyaku rikishi lost (except for Takakeisho, of course), and most of them looked bad doing it. Worst of all was Takayasu, who went from looking strong, in control, and confident on Days 1–4, but seemed utterly hapless on Thursday. Meanwhile, sekiwake Mitakeumi (who entered this basho with hopes of earning a promotion to ozeki) was completely bamboozled by komusubi Kaisei, who was kyujo for the first two days of the tournament and still seemed stiff and a little unsteady.

This certainly is making for an unpredictable tournament. No one expects Takakeisho and Tochiozan to keep up their dominance for the whole two weeks. Chances are that this basho will be taken by a rikishi with fewer than 13 wins, which is extremely uncommon. But that also means the chances are good that the yusho [tournament championship] will be decided in a playoff after the end of the regular matches on Sunday. 

As exciting as that would be, I have to say that from where I sit here on Day 6, I’d much rather see the overall quality of the sumo go up a notch in Week 2 and have just a couple of high-performing rikishi take the lead. On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong about Tochiozan and Takakeisho—maybe they ARE up to the task, and THEY are the high-performing rikishi I’m asking for.

Today’s top matches include:

M9 Kotoshogiku (3–2) vs. M7 Shohozan (2–3)—A hard-fought, gutsy match that lasts nearly a full minute-and-a-half. THIS is good sumo. (6:00)
M2 Tochiozan (5–0) vs. M3 Nishikigi (1–4)—Undefeated Tochiozan takes on Nishikigi, who just notched his first win of the basho yesterday (though it WAS over ozeki Goeido). (9:45)
Komusubi Takakeisho (5–0) vs. komusubi Kaisei (1–2–2)—Undefeated Takakeisho takes on Kaisei, who just notched his first win of the basho yesterday (though it WAS over sekiwake Mitakeumi). (10:30)
M2 Tamawashi (3–2) vs. ozeki Takayasu (4–1)—Takayasu had a big let down yesterday. He needs to refocus right away so he can stay near the top of the mix for the yusho race. (12:20)

DINOvember: THUMP!

Dinosaurs came all sizes, y’know.